Friday, May 24, 2024

Chinese coast guard fires water cannons at Philippine vessels in South China Sea

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Chinese coast guard ships fired water cannons at two Philippine patrol vessels on Tuesday near a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, causing minor damage to one vessel, in the latest flareup in an increasingly tense territorial conflict.

There were no immediate reports of injuries in the incident off Scarborough Shoal, one of two hotly disputed areas where confrontations between China and the Philippines have flared on and off since last year.

A Philippine coast guard ship and an accompanying fisheries vessel were patrolling the waters off Scarborough Shoal when four Chinese coast guard ships, backed by six suspected militia ships, executed dangerous blocking manoeuvres, Philippine coast guard spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela said.

“China’s coast guard and maritime militia vessels harassed, blocked and rammed vessels of the Philippine coast guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources,” a Philippine government task force dealing with the territorial disputes said.

The Philippine fisheries vessel sustained damages, including to its electrical, navigation and radio systems, the task force said.

A number of journalists who were invited to join the patrol witnessed the hostilities, it added.

“China’s latest illegal and irresponsible behaviour highlights its egregious disregard for the Philippines’ lawful exercise of its rights and entitlements in our own Exclusive Economic Zone,” the task force said.

The Philippine vessels pressed on with their patrol despite the Chinese coast guard’s actions, Commodore Tarriela said.

“They were not deterred and will persist in carrying out their legitimate operations to support Filipino fishermen and ensure their safety,” Commodore Tarriela said in a statement.

“The Philippines has violated China’s sovereignty with its actions,” said Gan Yu, spokesman for China’s coast guard.

“It will continue to carry out actions to defend its rights in the Chinese waters according to law, and will resolutely uphold our country’s maritime rights”, he insisted.

The Chinese coast guard has also re-installed a floating barrier across the entrance to the shoal’s vast fishing lagoon, he said.

The Philippine coast guard removed a similar barrier in the past to allow Filipinos to fish in the lagoon.

China insists on its sovereignty over virtually all of the South China Sea, a key global trade route.

In addition to the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have also been involved in the territorial disputes.

The increasing frequency of the skirmishes between the Philippines and China, which have injured Filipino navy personnel and damaged supply boats in the past, has sparked fears the territorial conflict could degenerate into an armed confrontation that could put China and the United States on a collision course.

The US lays no claims to the South China Sea but has warned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, a long-time treaty ally, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack including in the contested waters.

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